Three Bells In Bucks

Craig LaBan finds a winner in Bucks County’s Rouget, an ambitious French BYOB.

Few young cooks hold on to and evolve the canon of culinary school classics with quite as much fervor as Held, who recasts them with a light but artful touch. His beef “a la mode” is a rarely seen paragon of throwback bistro goodness. The thick slice of French pot roast made from flatiron steak is braised to a melting softness, dabbed with horseradish, scattered with asparagus tips, and set beside a creamy gratin stack of shaved root vegetables.

3 Bells – Excellent

Rouget [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Dream Cuisine

Craig LaBan finds a little bit of the South of France in South Jersey at Dream Cuisine, a French cafe tucked in among chain restaurants.

And the straightforward presentations are rustic French, rather than fussy French, with chunky tomato-based sauces that evoke the Mediterranean garden. This food reminds me of the grandmère cooking you’d find at a neighborhood cafe – if your neighborhood happened to be near Fanari’s native Nice.

The intoxicating smell of garlic and Pastis rises up from broiled scallop shells that cradle both tiny bay and larger sea mollusks Рand I sop up with crusty bread every last drop of the remaining crumb-thickened juices. A lightly seared tuna steak comes posed over real ratatouille Рthe Proven̤al vegetable medley of eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers and basil-laced tomatoes, sauteed separately in olive oil before being brought together for a final simmer.

Two Bells – Very Good

Dream Cuisine [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Dream Cuisine [Official Site]

Sonam Reviewed

Photo by Ryan Charles

Craig LaBan’s review of South Street’s Sonam reminds us of a Ryan Howard at bat. When chef Ben Byruch connects he often hit a home run but there were too many whiffs in the ambitious menu. But hey, at least he’s trying for a home run.

Among the most memorable were the “hamachi nachos,” tortilla chips topped with yellowtail sushi and a spicy streak of oil infused with the essence of pico de gallo. There is also a memorable savory trompe l’oeil twist on S’Mores, in which broiled goat-cheese “marshmallows” sit atop the chocolate lookalike of reduced figs and whole meal crackers for a clever campfire twist on the cheese course.

The Asian chicken sliders – three brioche-bun minis topped with a ponzu mayonnaise – are among the best poultry burgers I’ve ever had. Granted, that’s not a high bar, but I’ve actually come to crave these moist and gingery little patties.

One Bell – Hit or Miss

Sonam [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Sonam [Official Site]

This Marigold’s a Star

LaBan loves the new Southern-inflected style of Marigold Kitchen, awarding it three bells. But he’s worried:

…O’Shea’s impressive debut in her first months as a head chef is a reaffirmation. It reinforces Marigold’s continued standing as one of our most intriguing kitchens. And the mercurial ease with which this 40-seat destination has drastically changed its culinary personality (now for the second time) is a vivid reminder why the intimate Philadelphia BYOB – as a genre – remains the purest stage for an emerging chef to make her creative voice heard.

Whether many folks are hearing it is the question. There was hardly a soul in the dining room during my final mid-week meal, even though Marigold’s new menu has dropped its entree prices by nearly $10, to mostly under $20, in an effort to bring the neighborhood crowd back.

Marigold Kitchen [Inquirer]
Marigold Kitchen [Official Site]

Jasper Gets Two Bells

Jasper
Craig LaBan heads to Downingtown and the New American BYOB, Jasper owned by chef Nick DiFonzo.

Deceptively light tubes of gnocchi came in a delightfully bisquey tomato broth infused with olive oil. Crab cakes filled with sweet meat and bound with a delicate seafood mousse took on a confident Asian flair beside a glass noodle salad blushing sweet and spicy with caramelized sriracha.

Crepes came elegantly rolled around a mushroom puree so rich, it had the intensity of a good rich soup. And the perfume of mini-kobe Rossini burgers splashed with demi-glace was so heady, the entire table inhaled their truffled aroma when those foie gras-topped sliders landed before me.

Two Bells – Very Good

Jasper
Jasper [Official Site]

Two Bells For Ugly American


Nothing ugly in Craig LaBan’s write-up on Pennport’s Ugly American.

[Chef David] Gilberg has a few nice moves with seafood, too, like the garlicky head-on shrimp, and the seared dayboat scallops with chunky bacon-laced chowder and puffy popovers, and fried oysters with an addictive celery root-spinach salad.

But he has a special touch with beef, including possibly the best prime-grade steak deal in town. His ginger- and soy-marinated “Belvedere” – a wonderfully marbled chuck cut patented by Wells Meats – comes with a skillet-seared crust over a lavish smear of black truffle bearnaise. At $22 (and with a brilliant side of twice-baked potato stuffed with sweet creamy crab), this dish should draw surf ‘n’ turfers of all ilk, from the Pennsport neighbors to visitors from the no-man’s-land of the nearby Riverview complex.

Two Bells – Very Good

Ugly American [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Ugly American [Official Site]

Dumpling Dive Is Dumpling Heaven

Dim Sum Garden
Craig LaBan visits Dim Sum Garden in Chinatown in search of a worthy replacement to Lakeside Chinese Deli and finds perhaps the best scallion pancakes in city and more importantly to adventure seeking diners, “soup dumplings.”

Nip a hole and slurp the juice, for which our charming waitress finally confided the secret: pork “Jell-O” that becomes molten in the steam. Eyes snap open as the liquid rushes across our tongue, intensely savory, with a twinge of soy sweetness followed by the resonance of garlic. A dip in gingery black vinegar washes the tender meat stuffing and dumpling skin down with a bracingly tart smack. Want another? You bet!

Two Bells – Very Good

Dumpling heaven in Chinatown [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Bells Ring For Bindi

Bindi - Photo by Ryan Charles

Photo by Ryan Charles

Craig LaBan visits Marcie Turney’s and Valerie Safran’s Bindi and finds a thoughtful update to Indian food.

Turney’s pork vindaloo, though, may be Bindi’s best example of a refined classic. The typical slow-stewed meat is upgraded with yieldingly soft seared tenderloin. And the meat’s aromatic crust of black cardamom, clove, cumin and nigella seeds sparks against the hot and sour gravy, a vinegar- and wine-tinged brew that unfurls with sweet spice on the tongue before a final whip-crack of chile heat. A comforting puree of creamy cauliflower and a sweet mango-date chutney cushions the vindaloo’s bold flavors.

Three Bells – Excellent

An update of Indian cuisine, faithful to authentic flavors [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Bindi [Official Site]

Morning News with Kimchi

Still riled up about that 50 Best Bars covers story in Philadelphia Weekly? Consider this tour of Fishtown’s best bars by Brian McManus. Funny and frightening in equal amounts. [PW]

The Inquirer went Seoul crazy this weekend, with LaBan reviewing Everyday Good House on Front and Olney and Rick Nichols extolling the virtues of Korean fried chicken and Cooking Papa. [The Inquirer]

Lew Bryson wonders whether it’s time to retire the term “beer geek.” Reading his post indicates to us that it’s not. No word on what he thinks of gastropub. [Seen Through a Glass]

Do restaurants really suffer during a recession? We hope not. Then again, since everyone’s going on food stamps, the issue might be moot. [NY Times]

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